Throughout this crisis UCU has been pushing the government to recognise the scale of the risks facing tertiary education and put it as close as possible to the top of their agenda. This afternoon at 15.30 I am presenting evidence to the House of Commons Petitions Committee on the effects of coronavirus in colleges and universities, alongside other witnesses including the president of the NUS. You can watch the session live or after the event by clicking here.
UCU members and staff are making similar representations across the devolved nations and on a local level, to employers, local MPs and other parties. When I talk to people in branches and in regional and devolved national offices, it’s clear that the whole union is working overtime to deal with the effects of the pandemic. I am really proud of everything you are doing as members, despite the pressures on your workload and the unprecedented, often traumatic circumstances in which we are all having to live and work.
Protecting funding and jobs
In further education, adult & community education, and prison education, a lot of funding streams have been guaranteed and protected for the time being. However, we are aware that a few institutions are in trouble financially and some employers may use the crisis as a pretext for imposing redundancies and other cuts. I am holding meetings with the government ministers and shadow ministers with responsibilities in these areas and telling them that they cannot get away with under-funding tertiary education, letting institutions go under, or allowing layoffs.
In higher education (HE), the government needs to intervene to underwrite the income that universities are projected to lose from tuition fees and other sources. On Monday the government announced an extremely weak ‘bailout’ package that promised little more than to bring forward funding that would usually be delivered later in the year. This and the other measures the government announced are not nearly enough and I am continuing to stress to ministers that they need to go much further.
We are already seeing employers impose or threaten large-scale redundancies, particularly of casualised staff. UCU has decided to make your job security a top priority over the coming months. We will defend staff in every institution where jobs are under threat and we are currently preparing a national campaign to protect the whole HE workforce.
Every success our education system enjoys is down to the commitment and the skill of staff on the ground, and now is the worst possible moment to cut them loose. We expect employers to do everything humanly possible to keep staff on their books.
Returning from lockdown
As we prepare for further government announcements about a potential easing of lockdown restrictions, a lot of staff are anxious about what the next year will look like. UCU is gathering information, developing guidance and supporting members to make sure that any arrangements for returning to face-to-face teaching and other activities will be safe and involve no detriments in terms of workload.
I have already been working with our sister education unions to warn against an unsafe, premature reopening of schools and we will do the same for every workplace we cover, from colleges to universities. This will be an important new frontier in our struggle for better working conditions over the next few months and we need to be ready. Please look out for further updates in your inbox and keep checking the Covid-19 section of our website.
UCU general secretary